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State

Capital

Tibet*

Lhasa

Bod

Currency unit

Renminbi (Chinese occupation)

Connections

Central Asia

China

Far East

Mongolia

Nepal

Torture

War
 

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

History

Tibet is claimed by and occupied by China. Should it be considered a Chinese colony?

It is an area largely inhabited by people of different culture to the Chinese. The main religion is the Tibetan version of Buddhism. The language is distinct from Chinese. The affinities are with Mongolia and Burma rather than with China. The form of Buddhism practiced probably came from Afghanistan, after the Muslim conversion in the 7th century when the monks migrated eastward.

The constitutional and international status is disputed and ambiguous. According to Tibetans, before 1950 Tibet had never been directly ruled by the Chinese.

Before 1642 Tibet had kings and had been an important political and military power in Central Asia. From 1642 until 1950 it was ruled by the lamas (monks) of the many Buddhist monasteries. The chief monk was known as the Dalai Lama (Oceanwide or Universal Lama), the head of the Yellow Hat sect of Buddhist monks. The first Dalai Lama was appointed by the ruler of Mongolia, Altan Khan, in 1578. Perhaps though he was an imitation or re-creation of the Buddhist priests of Bamian (Afghanistan) who became Muslim (and advisors to the Khalifs of Baghdad). From 1642 the Dalai Lama took over the powers of the state. He was a ruler rather like the Pope before 1870, who, as well as ruling the church, was also the ruler of a state in Italy.

According to their religion (which included the idea of transmigration of souls), when a Dalai Lama died his spirit went into a new-born child. The monks therefore would search the country for a child born at the moment of his death. They usually waited for about five years. When they had found a suitable child he was brought to Lhasa and educated to be the new ruler. This was a rather unusual method of choosing a ruler but not all that ancient - the British and Japanese monarchies are much older. Other, lesser, rulers of monasteries, such as the Panchen Lama, the most recent of whom died in 1989, were chosen in the same way.

This method of choosing a new ruler might be slightly superior to hereditary succession by the eldest son as was practiced in Europe. The theory of transmigration (also believed in by Hindus and by Pythagoras) does not have to be true in order to practice this method. The main effect of the method is that the ruler is educated to rule and the monks can choose someone with the character they want. There were political aspects to the choosing of the Dalai Lama. This is illustrated by the fact that the fourth Dalai Lama was a child of the Mongolian Royal family, who were politically dominant in the area at the time. The office seems less mysterious if we realize that it was a political position which could be subject to the usual political influences.

China invaded in 1950. The Dalai Lama left in 1959 after fighting broke out. He has lived in exile since then at Dharamsala in India. He heads a Government in exile which is intended to have a democratic form as he prefers to concentrate on his religious functions rather than his political role.

China claims that Tibet is a historic part of the Chinese empire and that during the 19th century when China was weak Tibet was only temporarily not under control. Modern Tibetans claim that they have never recognized China as an overlord. However, the Manchu emperors claimed overlordship from about 1717 and kept a garrison in Lhasa until 1792 when Chinese troops helped the Tibetans drive out Nepalese troops (Gurkhas). After this Tibet received no help or interference from China until 1910.

In 1904 there was a treaty between Britain and Tibet after a British invasion had caused the then Dalai Lama to flee to China but in 1906 a treaty between China and Britain recognized Chinese suzerainty. In 1910 the Chinese invaded Tibet for the first time since 1792 and the Dalai Lama fled to India. The Tibetans declared independence in 1911 following the Chinese revolution. From then until 1950 there was no Chinese authority in Tibet.

In 1950 the Tibetan government appealed to the United Nations when China invaded but no help came because Britain, India and the United States moved in the Security Council to "defer" consideration. A UN General Assembly resolution 1723 in 1961 called for the restoration of Tibet's right to self-determination. All the signs are that Tibetans do not want to be ruled by the Chinese. There have been reports of demonstrations and Chinese brutality and massacres.

Large numbers of Chinese settlers have been moved to the country so that, for example, Tibetans are a minority in Lhasa. The eastern provinces have been annexed by China. The rest of the country is officially an Autonomous Region, but is what the British Empire called a Colony or Protectorate.

Tibet's best chance of independence would come if the regime in China collapsed. How likely is this? Wait and see.

The real affinity of Tibet is not with China but with Mongolia where the same Buddhist religion is followed. After the ending of Communism, religion has revived and the Dalai Lama has visited. There are also peoples recognizing the Dalai Lama in Tuva, Kalmyckia and Buryat, republics of Russia. There are pockets of Tibetan culture in Nepal, such as the kingdom of Mustang.

There are some signs that the settler Chinese are mainly there for the money and might well leave if Tibet becomes independent (and the Chinese regime collapses).

(Tibetan magic is almost certainly a figment of the imagination of writers such as Henry Hoskin a.k.a. T.Lobsang Rampa who have not been there.)

Useful article by Prahag Khanna on the history of Chinese policy in Central Asia.

Languages

Tibetan

(related to Burmese)

Chinese

 Interesting reading

Heinrich Harrar Seven Years in Tibet - a Classic description of life before the Chinese invasion



Sieben Jahre in Tibet: Mein Leben am Hofe des Dalai Lama (Ullstein-Bücher, Allgemeine Reihe)

 History

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

Politics

The government in exile proposes a democratic constitution with the Dalai Lama as a constitutional monarch not involved in day to day politics. The Dalai Lama may be ailing. The question arises as to who would run the government in exile if he died. The Chinese are no doubt waiting for his death and hope to appoint their own successor as they have tried to do with the Panchen Lama (number two in the hierarchy). Government in the country consists of a colonial regime which looks after the interests of the settlers rather than the Tibetans themselves.

In November 2007 the Dalai Lama made an interesting proposal, that the Tibetan people should vote in a referendum about whether to discontinue the post of Dalai Lama. If they voted yes, the Chinese would lose the chance to appoint the next holder of the office.

In May 2011 a prime minister was elected by Tibetan exiles and the Dalai Lama stepped down from his political posts.

Guardian report on referendum proposal.

 History

 Politics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

Economics

The Chinese treat Tibet as a source of raw materials. They are extensively cutting the forests and extracting the minerals. An independent Tibet might well have the basis of a modest prosperity using these resources for the good of Tibetans.

China is reported to have stored nuclear weapons and radioactive waste in Tibet.

Other wastes are discharged into rivers. Perhaps Chinese assume they will not stay so feel no need to clean up.

They have built a railway to Lhasa at enormous expense and difficulty.

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Rights

 Climate

Green/Ecology

The Chinese are reported to be allowing general cutting of the forests and mining ores without care for the environment, much as they do in China itself.

In a high mountainous area this has had serious effects and increased erosion of the land and such disasters as floods and landslides, some of which are felt as far away as India and Bangladesh.

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

 Climate

Human Rights

Chinese human rights record in Tibet is as bad as any country this century. Torture, arrest without charge, imprisonment without trial, shootings by security forces have been common throughout the Chinese occupation. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution -1966-76 - the ancient monasteries were demolished and many of the ancient manuscripts and works of art destroyed in an attempt to take from the Tibetans their culture. The practice of religion was forbidden.

Although the Chinese have relaxed this policy and allowed some monasteries to function again most of the damage cannot be undone. Moreover, many monks have been killed in recent years in anti-Chinese demonstrations. The freedom to practice religion seems to be very limited.

All colonialists believe their activities are for the benefit of the colonized.

Climate effects

Changes in climate in Tibet can have effects in India, Bangladesh and other downstream states.

Last revised 28/05/08


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